Dead Man in a Ditch (2020) is the second book in Luke Arnold’s FETCH PHILLIPS ARCHIVES. It follows The Last Smile in Sunder City in which we met “man for hire” Fetch Phillips who, out of guilt for his role in the event that destroyed magic in the world, works only for the magical creatures who are now suffering and feeling threatened.
Fetch has a couple of investigations going on in this installment. An elderly elf has asked him to find out who killed her husband. Meanwhile the police investigator has asked him to investigate a seemingly unrelated crime — a murder that looks a lot like it was done with magic though, supposedly, magic has disappeared from the world. Fetch certainly believes that magic is gone, but rumors are circulating that if anyone knows anything different, it must be Fetch.
During his investigations, Fetch discovers some dirty deeds going on in Sunder City — deeds that will have a lasting negative impact on the city and its citizenry. Fetch needs to find the bad actors and thwart their plans.
A significant part of the plot of Dead Man in a Ditch features flashbacks to Fetch’s youth, which was often unpleasant and brutal until Fetch met a mentor who took him under his wing. Now Fetch is beginning to see some of his past experiences in a new light.
In my review of The Last Smile in Sunder City, I mentioned that the FETCH PHILLIPS ARCHIVES has a lot of promise. Though he’s self-loathing and excessively melancholy, Fetch is a nice fellow. While reading Dead Man in a Ditch, there were times that I was disappointed in Fetch. He seemed to turn his brain off when one particular character was around. I didn’t believe in this sudden naivety and conformity. It felt contrived to me — a way to get him into certain predicaments that were heavily foreshadowed.
Similar to the first book, Dead Man in a Ditch has a tendency for too much telling (infodumps), and a lack of clever villains and likeable side characters (this is a serious problem). There’s also a paucity of witty humor, something expected from this sort of fantasy series, and something that would have brightened these stories up quite a bit.
On the positive side is an intriguing urban setting, an interesting premise, an appealing writing style, and the fact that the audio versions produced by Hachette Audio are narrated by the author himself (who is a professional actor). Overall, FETCH PHILLIPS ARCHIVES is just “average” so far, but I’m willing to give it some more time.